This past summer, I had the exciting opportunity to be part of the inaugural cohort of the UNCF Lighted Pathways internship program, which exposes African American undergraduate students to careers in finance and asset management. Two things intrigued me about this: one, I would get to spend a summer with a cohort of peers from across the country; and two, I would have a new dorm experience away from home that I never had, and in a city (Boston) that I had never visited!
I vividly remember receiving the email from UNCF informing me which firm I would be with for the summer: Boston Trust Walden (“BTW”). I immediately went on the BTW website to peruse the pages and satisfy my curiosity of the company. As I was greeted with an image of trees set against a cool-blue background, I thought to myself, “This is not what I was expecting from an asset management firm.” Little did I know, this would be the least of my surprises. I also took note that BTW is an employee-owned firm that is a leader in ESG and impact investing, and that they have a bio page for every person at the firm.
My initial contact with BTW was through Ashish Gandhi. He was very accommodating with my school schedule during our preliminary meetings and made sure to give me an in-depth overview of BTW before I got to Boston. And, when I got to Boston, I cannot count the amount of times Ashish helped me! Some notable highlights include meeting me at the Northeastern dorms and traveling with me to One Beacon to make sure I knew how to get to the firm; giving me a tour around the firm; coming with me to UNCF sponsored events; letting me borrow his tie and blazer for my professional headshot; and introducing me to Sam LaGrassa’s, which gives Katz’s Deli in NYC a run for its money. Ashish would always joke that I am his son, especially with the blazer and tie situation, and that would be an accurate thing to say about our relationship. I grew up without my father in the picture, so the LITTLE things like letting me borrow clothes to take a professional headshot and taking me out to lunch were BIG things for me. Ashish is a positive male role model, and I am glad to have gotten to know him better over the summer and maintain a relationship with him. He will, of course, be the recipient of a Father’s Day message each year, starting now.
As for my internship experience, it was nothing short of spectacular. What made BTW so spectacular is simple: BTW is just DIFFERENT. There’s a different type of energy at this firm. Everyone is sincerely happy to be at work and collaborate with each other. This positive energy was so infectious that even on days I was personally not feeling the best, having one meeting and hearing the excitement and passion of a person instilling knowledge on to you would make me snap out of that bad mood. I noticed this energy was not a one-off thing; it was constant throughout my whole internship. I can see why, too: Boston Trust Walden has regular colleague lunches where most of the firm would sit down to chat and enjoy a meal. These were perfect opportunities to meet people I did not sit close to and network with more of my colleagues. Additionally, Boston Trust Walden utilizes an anonymous suggestions box, which allows employees to share suggestions to make the firm better. This was the first internship (and maybe last) where I felt like I was on an equal level in terms of voice.
Throughout my time at BTW, I was asked for my input and opinion and felt valued and always respected. I also felt free to ask questions, and I would consistently get an answer that answered the next ten questions I would have asked right after. Like I said, the energy is just different; it’s not something that can really be described in words. You just have to go to the firm and spend a day there, and then you’ll see what I mean.
Another aspect of BTW that I really enjoyed was the go-getter attitude. I am naturally an extrovert, so this was perfect for me. I had to ask for things; nothing was ever handed to me. I also had projects that challenged me in ways that I’d never faced before, most notably my ESG Project on the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) and my stock analysis.
My first project was for the ESG team, where I had to distill a 50+ page report on the TNFD into 10-12 slides. It was a challenge to decide which information was most relevant to include, but I had regular consultations with the ESG team, and they were able to help me. I was a bit jittery to present for the first time, but I felt comfortable in the team’s presence, and they asked me questions that made me think about my report more deeply. I even went back and sent follow-up emails to the questions they posed, as I needed to do additional research to find the answers. I found this project helped me develop my analytical skills and taught me to go back and really think about my research.
My last project was a stock analysis for the Investment Committee. This project was hands down the most fun – and the most challenging in terms of new information. I had the opportunity to work with portfolio managers and financial analysts, and really build upon my knowledge of financial metrics of a company and what they mean. I was able to present in front of the BTW Investment Committee and give my investment thesis and a specific recommendation on whether to buy a stock. As a Finance major and someone passionate about investing, this exercise was a first in taking a bottom-up, fundamental approach to looking at a stock, and it opened my eyes so much. I can now give a stock pitch, which I’m sure will help me in many interviews!
Another highlight of my time in Boston was skydiving. I went with two other interns, and I had an uneasy stomach for the whole week leading up to the day I jumped out of a plane. I remember signing all the liability forms – it felt like I was signing away my life. Then, we waited around for it to be our turn. One thing I hate is waiting. Especially when it’s for something I’m nervous about. When it finally came time for us to board the plane, I was shaking with half-excitement, half-fear. I looked out of the window as the plane engine started and was mesmerized by how fast we were ascending. In about five minutes, we were at 11,000 feet. I kept asking the instructor, “I’m strapped in good, right?” I wanted to make sure I would live to tell the tale. One of my fellow interns went to the open plane door, and he and his instructor jumped. I thought, “It’s getting real now.” The second intern jumped with her instructor. And then it was my turn. I waddled up to the open plane door. “This is it,” I thought to myself. I looked down, braced my arms, and thought, “Let’s do this!” Five seconds after that thought, I was met with a heavy dose of gravity. The pressure change from being in the airplane to descending rapidly at 120 mph wreaked havoc on my ears, but oh man, there is nothing like freefalling. When the instructor pulled open the parachute, it was so serene. All the adrenaline went away and I was filled with tranquility. After that day, my motto became, “I jumped out of a plane at 11,000 feet – nothing can scare me now!” And that motto rang true this summer: Leading up to my BTW Investment Committee presentation, I was not scared; when speaking to new peers, I was not nervous. Boston Trust Walden and skydiving have big things in common: they teach you not to be scared, to put yourself out there, to remain humble, and to always expect the best out of people. I will take what Boston and BTW has taught me and carry it with me for the rest of my professional and personal life.
I thank UNCF and Boston Trust Walden for coming together to provide me with this unique opportunity. I hope they can continue to provide this program to minorities such as myself. For the new BTW intern, this program is like a time capsule, and every year we will add to it. Keep the tradition going! BTW, you are like a second home for me, so I will be sure to visit whenever I’m back in Boston!
Matthew Nunez is pursuing his BBA at Baruch College where he majors in Finance. He also serves as a Program Manager at Project Destined, which facilitates real estate training, mentor sessions, executive speaker series, and investment pitch competitions.